My name is Michelle Alexander. I am a natal woman from a small rural community in Montana. I am a Home Health, Hospice Nurse. I have been an RN for almost a quarter of a century, the majority of my career spent in Home Health and Hospice Service. In that time, I have had the opportunity to care for hundreds of ill and dying patients across a broad spectrum of humanity: the rich and the poor; elderly and young; male and female; numerous nationalities, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.
In the year 2006, I was blessed with an assignment to care for a patient who touched my heart and life in a way that no other patient had before. Her name was Mishelle Woodring. She was a transgender woman. She was put on our Home Health Service for a seven day course of intravenous antibiotics to treat a respiratory infection. What began as a seven day professional encounter turned into a four and half month expedition into identity, gender and unconditional acceptance that affected me profoundly then and continues to affect me even today.
Until the time that I met Mishelle, my experience with the transgender community was essentially nil. Zero. Nothing. My only encounter was in a well-known drag club in Portland my mother took me to while I was still in nursing school. Her intention at that time was to broaden my horizons, given my small-town origins in Butte, Montana. Up to that point, I'd had very little exposure to anything resembling diversity.
Before meeting Mishelle, my mental image of a transgender person was what I saw that night in a drag club; an unrealistic portrait at best of the transgender community. With a casual, unthinking prejudice, I assumed that Mishelle was a male who chose to dress as a female. I thought of her as a transvestite, a term I now acknowledge as obsolete. I soon found that my prejudices regarding Mishelle were also obsolete.
Mishelle was utterly unique in my experience in that she was completely blind. Totally blind -no shadows, nothing. But she had a relatively powerful memory of having had sight for the first eighteen months of her life. She thought she may have remembered the color red and the color green. She was fifty-six years old when I met her. Consider if you will: hers was a life led in complete darkness for over half a century.
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